A white dry erase board awaits Brad Fennessy every morning.
Sporting a mohawk, the English teacher arrives at Woodstock North High School around 6 a.m. and heads to the photocopy room. Digging into a bin of rainbow-colored markers, he clicks one open and starts creating.
In between making the photocopies he needs daily, Fennessy makes people smile.
“That one made me laugh out loud,” fellow English teacher Sabrina Nevler said as she passed through the room, glancing at Fennessy’s daily comic, drawn on the roughly 6-by-4-foot board.
Created around Easter, the comic depicted two eggs standing side by side. They’re being told the news, “The governor has denied your appeal. You have been sentenced to dye.”One of his favorites shows a sad-looking gallon of milk. “<Sigh>,” the milk’s thought bubble reads, “all of my friends expired last week.”
The comics are a couple of the roughly 700 Fennessy has drawn on the board every day for the past four years.
He’s never missed a morning, including summer school.
Even on sick days, he stops by to draw the day’s comic. The Crystal Lake native and 2001 graduate of Crystal Lake South High School came up with the idea for the comics while in graduate school.
The tradition grew out of a desire to brighten up the drab walls of the room and a challenge by a teacher to identify a talent and use it for the good of others.
“I couldn’t think of anything,” said Fennessy, who’s also the school’s journalism adviser. “I’ve doodled on and off my whole life, and it was kind of boring in here. I thought it’d be fun to put a little color in here.”
Teachers enjoyed the morning laughs, and students started to pick up on the tradition, eyeing the comics through a glass door that connects the copy room and the cafeteria.
Fennessy initially liked being somewhat anonymous, sketching his creations in the early morning hours when the school was empty.
“For a long time, at least a year and a half, most staff members did not know who was doing it,” said Anne Panos, the principal’s secretary. “I kind of caught him one day. Then when people would ask, I let it slip that’s who’s doing it. ...
“It just makes your day,” she said. “He’s just drawing a little cartoon, and it just makes you smile. Who doesn’t want to smile to start their day?”
Once the students realized who was doing it, they were slightly shocked to find out an English teacher, not an art teacher, was behind the creations.
That, in itself, is a bonus, Fennessy said, because the students can see how multi-dimensional people can be.
“They can see that just because I’m an English teacher doesn’t mean I don’t have any other interests,” he said.
Over the years, the comics have reflected the school’s climate, Nevler said. The topics often mirror what’s on everyone’s minds – upcoming breaks, holidays, dances, sporting events.
When a fellow teacher recently had a baby, that’s what the comic was about. And when the juniors were testing, Fennessy’s work reflected that as well.
“He makes it very meaningful,” Panos said.
They all aim to do one thing – entertain.
“It’s all about giving people smiles,” Fennessy said.
“We’re all busy and stressed, and it gets crazy around here. This starts the day on a good note.”
Fennessy has never even taken an art class, but compares his ability to draw to the talents of those portrayed on “Stupid Human Tricks,” a skit on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“I can take any image I look at and make it larger,” he said.
Not all of the comics are his own ideas. He’ll often search the Internet for jokes and drawings to duplicate.
Fennessy goes through at least a 24-pack of dry erase markers every year. He likes the fact each morning begins with a clean slate, the board ready to be filled with something new, similar to the way it feels to start a new school year.
“I’m here to help students become better learners, better thinkers, to pass that on,” he said of the reason he became a teacher. “If I didn’t, who else would?”
As for the comics, they’ve become part of the school’s culture.
“It’s sort of become a schoolwide phenomenon,” he said. “It’s bizarre how it’s taken off.”
They’re just “goofy pictures,” Fennessy said, but they’ve inspired plenty of smiles, giggles and laughs.
They lighten things up, and that’s an atmosphere everyone enjoys. And Fennessy said he never intends to stop drawing them.
“I’m afraid if I stop I’d have a hard time getting back at it,” he said.